Shakespeare Project return to Upstage Theatre, marking the 600
Director Maggie Smales has a achieved a well realised interpretation of Henry V and has a talented team working with her in which every element, whether it be the cast, costume, lighting, sound, comes together completely like the pieces of a puzzle.
Even with ensemble pieces, there are always characters that are categorised as the “lead roles” that outshine their fellow performers because the narrative is centred around them and their journey through it. Yet what was so remarkable about this company was that there was perfect unity between them. Not one of them stood out as the shining performer and that is meant as the highest appraisal. It’s commendable to see a company work in this way, not to focus all their direction on the leads, but create a community that becomes part of the world they are creating.
With any text, dialogue is key; particularly with Shakespeare, when it can be rather difficult to follow the language. It’s very clear from the performance that a great deal of time and effort has gone into the direction and workshopping of this piece, so that each performer has a firm understanding of their lines. Even when the dialogue escapes you, the emotion that flows out of every single line of dialogue is more than enough to keep you on track. A notable example was a scene entirely in French, which I would have had no chance of understanding, yet through the emotion and the physicality, it was as clear as if they were speaking modern English. If you, like me, struggle to understand Shakespeare, fear not, for these performers compensate with these thoroughly understood characters and their talented performances.
However this leads me into one of my criticisms, which may seem nit-picky but nevertheless important. Monologues and other dialogue heavy scenes were often distracted by silent events happening behind them, and though it’s commendable to see the chorus always active and being a part of that world, it was very easy to get lost in the comic moments that were being created in the background to the main action. One movement piece, though artistically captivating, played out behind a monologue with seemingly no connection to its content, which felt like an attempt to avoid the stage image of a solo performer setting the upcoming scene. Fortunately though, these were rare and made forgotten by other, more fitting physicality, one being a wonderful image of the English sailing to France, the ship constructed from the company and capturing that sense of community that I mentioned earlier.
Although I have praised the company’s unity as an ensemble, Claire Morley’s portrayal as Henry V cannot go unmentioned. It’s a serious undertaking when being cast as any titular role, but Morley rises to the challenge and executes it successfully, showing the inner struggle between the burden of the crown and the King’s isolation from his people. The contrast between these two states could have been pushed a little further, to make pivotal moments more impactful, but nevertheless, Morley captures the spirit and heart of the role and never attempts to play it as a man. In fact, none of the cast do, which is all the more pleasing rather than risk it feeling caricatured and fake, and just goes to show that Shakespeare can, and should be more often, performed by all-female companies.
Director Maggie Smales has a achieved a well realised interpretation of Henry V and has a talented team working with her in which every element, whether it be the cast, costume, lighting, sound, comes together completely like the pieces of a puzzle. It’s easy to forget that this is an amateur theatre company. It may have its flaws, but YSP have put together a fine production and is definitely worth going to see.